Coronavirus: Simple hacks for saving money at the supermarket

Woman wearing mask at the supermarket.
'Stretch your ingredients and use everything up.' Photo credit: Getty.

Planning meals and stretching ingredients will help shoppers survive the COVID-19 lockdown, a food expert says.

It comes as shoppers battling supermarket queues are urged not to overshop, while allegations of price gouging and cash flow concerns are causing many Kiwis to tighten their belts.

Jenny de Montalk, editor at healthyfood.com said that having a menu plan and checking existing supplies before shopping makes household budgets stretch a lot further.

By cooking in bulk, using leftovers and making sauces from scratch instead of packets, shoppers can cut out unnecessary trips to the shops and avoid impulse spending.

"Planning is essential to both saving money and shopping healthily because you'll use up everything you've bought," de Montalk said.

"The objective during lockdown is to spend as little time at the supermarket as possible - if you plan your shop beforehand, you'll be able to do that really well."

Setting aside a few hours to do weekly cook-up, dividing food into portions and freezing it as ready-to-go meals limits the amount of pre-packaged food going in the trolley.

"Then you're more likely to eat what you've made rather than snack on more expensive foods," de Montalk said.

Left-overs can be saved for another meal, including stalks and vegetable skins removed during preparation. 

"[For example], use the stalk of broccoli to make a broccoli and blue cheese soup; if you've got stale bread you can make breadcrumbs - or [combine with] hard cheese and whip up a nice crumb.

"Chicken carcasses can be used to make stock for soups, stews, casseroles [and] vegetables past their use-by date (and the ends) can be used for vegetable stock," de Montalk explained.

"[Saving money] is about stretching your ingredients and using everything up."

For non-vegans struggling to scratch a meal together, eggs provide many quick and easy meal options, such as omelettes and frittatas combined with vegetables.

"If you've got an egg in the house, you've got a meal in the house." 

Other staple items likely to last the lockdown period are frozen and canned foods.

"Frozen vegetables, canned vegetables and canned fish are all just as good as fresh -  they're just as nutritious, are much cheaper and can be stored longer," de Montalk added.

But it's not just food hiking up the grocery bill: a bottle of Jif costs upwards of $3.00.  If supplies run out before the next shop, households can make their own using simple ingredients.   

"For a regular cleaner (e.g. for tiles), you can use white vinegar and baking soda [or] for a surface disinfectant, you can use bleach (e.g. Janola) and dilute it one part bleach to nine parts water," de Montalk suggested.  

Having managed to avoid supermarket queues during lockdown, Mum-of-two Joanne Harland said she's a fan of buying in bulk and using up what's in the freezer and garden.

"I bought a jumbo bag of oats (4kg for $11.95) so we can have porridge with stewed apple from our tree every day for breakfast.

"It will last the family the entire lockdown and reduces the need for fresh bread," Harland said.

Dried pulses soaked overnight are a cheap family meal and can be used in many ways.

"So far, we've made red lentil soup, yellow split pea dahl and refried beans for a mexican dinner," Harland added.

"[I] keep the liquid (aquafaba) from tins of chickpeas, butter beans, cannellini beans, etc to use as an egg substitute in baking: three tablespoons [is the equivalent of] one egg.

"For vegan mayonnaise, I use four tablespoons of aquafaba with one cup of [plain] oil, two tablespoons of vinegar and two teaspoons of mustard," Harland added.

Groceries are large expense: according to Statistics New Zealand,* the average Kiwi household spends $233.60 per week on food.

Comparing prices at the supermarket and buying home brands where available will help shoppers make small cut-backs. Menu planning, cooking in bulk and making ingredients - including leftovers - stretch a bit further means shoppers can cut back on non-essential items and use that cash for leaner times ahead.

*Statistics New Zealand average weekly household expenditure (total food) year ending June 2019. 

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